By: Kristin Kipp, Ed.D.
Middle-level educators are uniquely gifted. They brave the wilds of puberty each and every day. They think teenagers are a riot, and they possess the rare gift of facing down a roomful of thirty 13-year olds without fear. I know because I started my career as a middle school teacher. Thus, I also know that teaching can be lonely for an experienced educator. Once you’ve been in a classroom for a few years, the units you’ve always loved grow repetitive, and professional development grows stale. The antics of your beloved students that were once so endearing can stomp on your very last nerve after a long day. How can an experienced educator reinvigorate a love for the classroom? I propose that giving back to the profession through mentoring a new teacher can be the answer.
Hold on, you may protest! Is taking on more responsibility really the answer to burnout? It sounds unlikely, but yes. Let me explain. Researchers have consistently found that teacher mentors experience a renewal of their own motivation to teach as well as a renewed interest in instructional strategies (Schwan et al., 2020). Teacher mentors report that mentoring led to growth in their ability to teach but also in their ability to communicate and lead, both in their classroom and in the larger school community (Hudson, 2013). Additionally, mentor teachers develop a new identity as an educator that is grounded not only in being a great teacher but also in being a contributor to the long-term success of the profession (Andreasen et al., 2019). It’s a solid combination of benefits that can renew and refresh teaching practices, but how does it come about?
One of the most obvious benefits of mentoring for the mentor is exposure to the optimism of a new educator. New teachers come into the profession wide-eyed and full of hope, ready to change the world. Interacting with that kind of optimism can help you remember why you became a teacher in the first place. While your naïveté about teaching may have faded over the years, your original reason for becoming a teacher probably still holds true. Simon Sinek, author of Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action, says that great organizations (and I’d add great teachers) will “keep their WHY clear year after year”(Sinek, 2009). Mentoring a new teacher can remind you of that “why.”
Another way that mentoring benefits the mentor teacher is by giving you the opportunity to re-examine your classroom practices. When a new teacher is coming in regularly to observe and discuss what’s happening in your classroom, it’s a great opportunity to look at your practices and filter them through a fresh perspective. Which practices are crucial to student achievement, relationships, or classroom culture? Why do those work? And which practices are simply habits without a clear rationale? What could you let go of? Opening up your classroom to those kinds of discussions with a new educator is eye-opening. You may find yourself letting go of some practices and opening up space for new possibilities.
Mentoring a new teacher also gives you dedicated time to observe in other classrooms, sometimes in your mentee’s classroom and sometimes as a pair in other teacher’s rooms. Simple exposure to a variety of classroom setups, approaches, and strategies can leave you with a wealth of ideas that you can bring back to your own work. Believe it or not, the crusty math teacher down the hall just may have a brilliant strategy that would simplify your daily practice immensely. Mentoring gives you the opportunity to learn it.
Finally, mentoring a new teacher gives you the opportunity to learn and apply a whole new set of communication skills. The best mentors move fluidly between three functions: offering support, creating challenge, and facilitating a professional vision (Lipton & Wellman, 2005). A mentor isn’t just a buddy to show a new teacher where the copier is. Instead, they are an experienced guide who helps new teachers become the best version of themselves through helping them see what’s possible and challenging them. Sound familiar? You need these same three functions in your work with students: supporting them, challenging them, and helping them envision a new future. As a mentor, you’ll learn new skills for coaching, which you can then turn around and apply with both students and adults. Mentoring can give you the language to inspire change.
You’re already a great teacher and a powerful classroom advocate. Mentoring can allow you to take the next step, empowering the next generation of classroom teachers while simultaneously refreshing and renewing your own classroom practice. It may not magically cure burnout, but it can certainly be a step in the right direction. Your local administrator, instructional coach, or induction program leader would love to share more about what mentoring looks like in your context.
Dr. Kristin Kipp is an experienced educator and instructional coach with a heart for teachers. She’s an Educator Development Specialist for the Colorado Department of Education where she works with new teacher induction and mentoring.
Andreasen, J. K., Bjørndal, C. R. P., & Kovač, V. B. (2019). Being a teacher and teacher educator: The antecedents of teacher educator identity among mentor teachers. Teaching and Teacher Education, 85, 281–291.
Hudson, P. (2013). Mentoring as professional development: “growth for both” mentor and mentee. Professional Development in Education, 39(5), 771–783.
Lipton, L., & Wellman, B. (2005). Cultivating learning-focused relationships between mentors and their protégés. In H. Portner (Ed.), Teacher Mentoring and Induction: The State of the Art and Beyond (pp. 149–165). Corwin Press.
Schwan, A., Wold, C., Moon, A., & Neville, A. (Fall 2020). Mentor and New Teacher Self-Perceptions Regarding the Effectiveness of a Statewide Mentoring Program. Critical Questions in Education, 190–207.
Sinek, S. (2009). Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action. Penguin.